British Catholic Bishops Issue Limp Voters Guide

In the lead-up to the UK’s general election in May, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales have issued a guide and questionnaire for voters, asking Britons to raise the question of what the sanctity of life means to candidates. But the guide and questionnaire have been criticized by pro-life campaigners who are saying they make the “seamless garment” error and fail to challenge candidates on the critical issues of the definition of marriage, assisted suicide and embryonic research.

Published March 30, the questionnaire does not straightforwardly lay out Catholic teaching on the sanctity of life, but instead merely suggests “some issues and questions which may help inform your decision on who to vote for.”

“They are open questions with no single ‘right’ answer,” the guide says.

The questionnaire declined to lay out any hierarchy of importance of the issues, placing the direct killing of innocent persons by abortion or euthanasia in the same category as “life-cramping poverty, and the neglect of the elderly.” It suggests that voters ask candidates, “What does respect for life mean to you? Do all lives have the same value? Older people and the infirm … the severely disabled … the unborn?”

The questionnaire does not mention any definition of marriage as being exclusively between one man and one woman, saying only, “Families are the basic building block of any stable society. Marriage provides the best context for bringing up children and must have the clear support and encouragement of Government.”

After indications from the Conservative Party leadership that a Tory government would institute “gay marriage,” the questionnaire suggests asking candidates only, “What will you do for marriage and the family? What practical measures will you take to encourage and support stable family life and the institution of marriage.”

Following life and marriage, the questionnaire talks about “migration,” poverty and “the place of religion in society.”

The issues not brought up include assisted suicide, which has been much in the media limelight recently, and Britain’s increasingly aggressive homosexualist political movement and its victories over freedom of religious expression in the equalities and “hate crime” legislation. Neither does the questionnaire or the guide address Britain’s ongoing creation and use, by cloning and other methods, of embryonic human beings as live research subjects.

The questionnaire follows the publication of the bishops’ voters’ guide titled “Choosing the Common Good” in early March. The guide addresses abortion and euthanasia on page 12, following reflections on the economic crisis.

It says, “The abortion of the unborn, and euthanasia even when voluntary, are a fundamental denial of this principle [of the common good], because both are concerned with exclusion from the human community, both are contrary to the common good.”

The guide then specifically cites the “seamless garment” theory that has been widely discredited by pro-life advocates, saying, “Both issues make clear that defence of the immeasurable value of human life is part of a ‘seamless robe,’ which requires all such threats to be taken seriously and opposed.

“Opposition to abortion requires a commitment to the alleviation of child poverty and high infant mortality; opposition to euthanasia demands concerted effort to remedy the social and economic conditions which lead to neglect, isolation, ill-health, and in poorer parts of the world low life expectancy among the elderly.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, however, says that abortion must be opposed simply because it is the direct killing of innocent human life: murder. Paragraph 2322 of the Catechism says, “From its conception, the child has the right to life. Direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, is a ‘criminal’ practice gravely contrary to the moral law. The Church imposes the canonical penalty of excommunication for this crime against human life.”

The guide’s section on marriage and family life is placed last in the list of issues, following sections on “Poverty and Inequality, the Care of the Elderly,” “Migration and Community Relations,” and “the Global Community and Ecology.” Nowhere in the section on marriage does it give the definition as being between one man and one woman.

John Smeaton, head of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, wrote that the guide fails to challenge candidates or teach voters about the critical issues at hand.

“To suggest that there is ‘no single right answer’ to questions on pro-life matters is to suggest that candidates don’t have a duty to uphold the right to life by voting against anti-life laws,” Smeaton said.

Smeaton wrote that the guide and the questionnaire make the fundamental error of equating “second-order social issues with first-order moral issues.”

“Putting poverty in the same category as abortion is to equate the relative with the absolute. This question thus repeats the ‘seamless robe’ error of the bishops’ pre-election statement.”

“Virtually all candidates will promise to fight against poverty, but many candidates will support and vote for abortion if elected,” Smeaton added.

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